In a policy document issued by the State Council, the Communist-ruled country's cabinet, China vowed to increase its "open seas protection", switching from air defence to both offence and defence, and criticised neighbours who take "provocative actions" on its reefs and islands.

China has been taking an increasingly assertive posture over recent years in the disputed waters of the South China Sea, where Beijing has engaged in land reclamation in the Spratly archipelago.

China, which claims most of the South China Sea, criticised Washington after a US spy plane flew over areas near the reefs last week, with both sides accusing each other of stoking instability.

It has overlapping claims with the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei in the South China Sea, through which USD 5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year.

Defence Ministry spokesman Yang Yujun said China's reclamation in the Spratlys was comparable with construction of homes and roads on the mainland.

"From the perspective of sovereignty, there is absolutely no difference," said Yang.

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